The Tennis Season Officially Starts Tomorrow!
These are exciting times. Several pro tournaments are set to kick off within the next twenty-four hours!
To get us ready for the season, we’re going to look at the biggest questions waiting to be answered by certain players on both the ATP and WTA tours in 2015. In each case, these will feature the top five players in the rankings, plus five more players surrounded by their own question marks.
Ready? First up: The men’s tour.
THE TOP FIVE
1. NOVAK DJOKOVIC Age: 27 Nationality: Serbian
Highlight of 2014: Winning Wimbledon for the second time, brushing off a troublesome tournament by winning a thriller five set final against Federer. He also won the ATP World Tour Finals by default, with Roger giving him a walkover.
Notability During Season: 8/10
You might be wondering why I haven’t given Novak a higher rating. The fact is that, while the Serb is a solid Big Three contender, he has always been somewhat overshadowed by the more popular Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal (they had already formed a legendary rivalry before Novak really broke through the ranks.) Rafa’s many injuries actually lent him a high profile during 2014. Meanwhile, Roger had a comeback year. It left Djokovic in the shadows during several periods of competition. After his five set quarter final loss to Wawrinka at the first Slam of the year, his smooth path to the French Open final went under the radar, as everyone focussed on Rafa’s unnatural struggles. He managed to come out on top during a wobbly Wimbledon, but during his next string of tournaments, his form disintegrated out of the blue.
Despite all that, off court activities such as his wedding to Jelena Ristic, and the birth of their first child, kept him in the headlines. His end-of-season dominance (which really started after his semi-final US Open showing) cannot be doubted, and his rivalry with Federer was easily the best of the year.
Seven titles is not to be scoffed at. And we can’t forget that he took the prestigious Indian Wells-Miami sweep.
(Well, I nearly had.)
BIGGEST QUESTION FOR 2015: Can Novak stay atop the rankings?
Currently, he holds a 1,585 point advantage over world number two Federer. However, Rafa has hardly any points to defend after Wimbledon, and still stands at three in the world, while Roger was ever so recently on the verge of stealing Novak’s status. He could do it, but he’ll have to fight season long. And make an extra push at those Slams and Masters where he can improve his previous showing.
2. Roger Federer Age: 33 Nationality: Swiss
Highlight of 2014: Reaching yet another Wimbledon final, and co-leading the Swiss Davis Cup team to glory with buddy Wawrinka. It was the only major title he hadn’t yet achieved.
Notability During Season: 10/10
I was going to give him 9.5 for fear of being biased. But Roger wasn’t out of tennis news all season. In 2013, the thoughtless critics were pushing him towards retirement. In 2014, Roger made a hard-hitting statement that said ‘No Way’. Yes, he didn’t win a Slam – but he came agonisingly close at Wimbledon, falling just short and shedding the most famous tear of the year. Like Djokovic, he had consistent results at three of the Slams – the only exception being a five set, fourth round French Open loss to Gulbis. An extremely winnable US Open semi final against Cilic likely would have handed him his 18th Slam, but the loss probably sent his name viral more than a win would have done. He was the talk of almost every tournament he played, and finished the year with five titles – including three masters – and many more finals.
Off the court, just before the French Open, he and wife Mirka welcomed their second set of twins into their family. Their second. Like that’s going to do anything but throw him into the spotlight!
BIGGEST QUESTION FOR 2015: Can Roger win a Grand Slam?
This time last year, I had a strong, gut feeling that Wimbledon was Roger’s. After saving a championship point in the fourth set of the final, he nearly made it.
But not quite.
I do feel that was his big chance to win another Slam. But I’m not going to talk about age, and I’m not going to talk about retirements. Sadly, most other people seem too taken up with all of that. Roger has proved the doubters wrong time and again (and thankfully I’ve never been one of them.) As he sits, solidly, one perch away from leading the rankings, I have no doubt that the widely regarded Greatest Of All Time can take one Slam this year.
3. Rafael Nadal Age: 28 Nationality: Spanish
Highlight of 2014: Notching a record ninth French Open title.
Notability During 2014: 6.5/10
Injury was the main story of Rafa’s 2014, and thus, despite his limited time on court, it kept him pretty well in the limelight. After winning the first tournament he played in Doha, he went all the way to the final in Australia. There, his back seized up, and it is now widely considered that this is what cost him victory against Stan Wawrinka. The Swiss had not even taken a set from Nadal in twelve previous meetings.
For the first time, Rafa had real struggles on his victory surface, clay, leading up to the French Open. He scraped up only one solitary title in the lead up to Roland Garros, which obviously generated a lot of unwelcome attention to him. But even more attention (this time welcome) came with his incredible ninth French Open title. It maintained his record of only losing one match there since his debut as a seventeen-year-old.
For the last half of the year, injury took over. And when it let up for him to be able to compete, his profile was lifted for the wrong reasons, such as losses at the hands of youngsters Nick Kyrgios and Borna Coric (albeit the second of which he played through appendicitis.)
It goes without saying: Nadal will be hungry for 2015.
BIGGEST QUESTION FOR 2015: Will Rafa make another famous comeback?
His immediate dominance off the back of his 2013 return from injury has to be one of tennis history’s most famous comebacks. But can he work the magic again?
I say this: If a player can play only half the year, and still end the season at world number three, do not underestimate him. After last year, it’s hard to see Roland Garros going to anybody else.
4. Stan(islas) Wawrinka Age: 29 Nationality: Swiss
Highlight of 2014: Winning his first Grand Slam at the Australian Open. He beat both Djokovic and Nadal en route. Also Davis Cup victory with Federer.
Notability During Season: 5/10
TENNIS.com did an article on Stan very recently. They entitled it ‘Stan The Occasional Man’. I love that, because it’s so true. Yet, often for many, it’s so frustrating.
Stan has always been a player of exceeding talent – but exceeding inconsistency. You really don’t need to say much more to sum up his season. Let’s call it the Wawrinka Rollercoaster. If you rode it, it would probably be the scariest you’d ever tried out. The worldwide shock at his maiden Slam victory – a surprise to even himself – gradually faded into the background, as Stan’s wavering steps were overwhelmed by the strides of the other top players.
That’s not to say he didn’t have his highs. Sometimes, as he does, Stan came roaring. He won the Monte Carlo Masters in April, beating Federer in the final. Of course, he did more than his fair share to carry the Swiss to Davis Cup triumph. And who can forget one of the matches of the year, in which he fell to Roger in the Tour Finals semis after holding four match points?
But the Monte Carlo victory was swiftly followed by a first round French Open exit, and he lost three of four matches before the the Tour Finals.
Ladies and gentlemen, Stan(islas) Wawrinka.
BIGGEST QUESTION FOR 2015: Can Stan put together a consistent season?
Genuinely, what more can I say?
5. Kei Nishikori Age: 25 (just) Nationality: Japanese
Ahhh, Kei. The kid (kind of) that finally won everyone’s hearts!
And I mean it. He’s a hero in Japan now.
My long-time favourite player outside my top three (see my profile), Kei has always had an outstanding, all-court, all-game-styles talent that his mentors have praised up. On his day, they have said, he can beat anyone.
And that’s what Kei proved – at times – this year. Fatigue, from three straight five set victories over Raonic, Wawrinka and Djokovic, was the biggest factor in his US Open final defeat. He made the most of his World Tour Finals spot (which he played through injury to attain), by making the semi finals, eventually falling to Novak in three sets.
Way back in the clay court swing, he was dominating King of Clay Rafael Nadal in the Madrid final – only to pull out injured, two games away from the trophy.
That’s the story of his career. That’s why he hasn’t come through earlier, why the flashes of brilliance have been nothing more than that: Flashes.
Until now. Because in 2014, Nishikori made a statement. He was uninjured long enough to announce his intentions.
And, despite the injuries that still befuddled his quest, he cracked the top five for the first time.
If he did that through injury, then just think of what could be…
BIGGEST QUESTION FOR 2015: Can Kei go the year uninjured?
History says a sad No. But only time will tell. There’s a first time for everything.
QUICKLY: Five More!
Congratulations if you’ve made it this far! In swifter fashion, here are five other players with queries to answer.
6. Andy Murray Age: 27 Nationality: British
BIGGEST QUESTION FOR 2014: Can he rejoin the Big Four?
Because in my opinion, after struggling to consolidate himself in it several years back, he’s left it. The back operation is long in the past now. That’s no factor to blame. In a sub-par season, he beat no one of any prestige until the back end of the year, and even then it was only the likes of Ferrer and Cilic. None of his ‘Big Four’ competition. Despite making a surprise French Open semi, he was annihilated by Rafa, and he said goodbye to Wimbledon in the quarters. A near double-bagel at the hands of Roger at the Tour Finals was the crowning humiliation.
It goes beyond the majors.
We’ll see if his coaching situation – which has seen him get rid of the strong forces of childhood friend Dani Vallverdu and Jez Green – is for better or for worse.
9. Marin Cilic Age: 26 Nationality: Croat
BIGGEST QUESTION FOR 2015: Will he achieve anything notable?
The shock of Stan’s Melbourne victory was well and truly blown away as freak circumstances saw Marin Cilic win the US Open. LITERALLY out of the blue. There are still times when I just sit there and mouth it out and can’t believe it.
He had never shown any signs of making it big time, and – however nice a guy he seems to be – there’s no doubt that a kind draw, a flailing Federer and a tired Kei did him many favours.
He has a LOT to prove this year.
12. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga Age: 29 Nationality: French
BIGGEST QUESTION OF 2015: Can Jo finally string together a Slam-winning tournament?
I’m going to totally contradict what I said about Federer. Jo is a hugely popular player, with the ability to take out any standard of competition on his day. Rather the symptoms of Kei – except for the fact the Tsonga is considerably further on in his career.
He turns thirty in April.
And the fact that, while injury troubles Kei, plain old inconsistency troubles Jo.
See how that word pops up a lot?
As he proved back in the Summer, when he took out Murray, Djokovic, Dimitrov and Federer en route to his second masters final, Tsonga has the power to be an absolute machine of destruction. A Grand Slam final is not unfamiliar territory.
But he’s not getting any younger, and thankfully he has four opportunities this year to prove that he can go all the way to glory.
Let’s hope he takes one.
(Note: Even though his Slam showings were disappointing this year, Jo fell to a member of the ‘Big Four’ every time.)
56. Bernard Tomic Age: 22 Nationality: Australian
BIGGEST QUESTION FOR 2015: Will Bernard finally change his ways?
A Wimbledon quarter finalist in 2011, Bernard Tomic has always been a highly touted prospect with bundles of talent. But with the rising of fresh players, and his persistent off-court bad behaviour interfering with his career for just too long, Bernard was overlooked for most of last season.
And maybe that’s just what he needed.
Once again, he has declared that his rebellious days are behind him. “Now is the time for maturity”, he states. Usually, we see him turn over a new leaf for the Australian swing, only for all the good intentions to fall away soon after. But decent showings to end last year – including a title and semi final – are proof that this time around could well be different.
137. JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO Age: 26 Nationality: Argentinian
BIGGEST QUESTION FOR 2015: Can Juan Martin return to tour?
The former top ten player was out for most of the season with a wrist injury – the same form of injury that disrupted his career after his maiden Slam triumph at the US Open in 2009.
Already he has pulled out of Brisbane, and there are whispers going around. It would be heartbreaking if Juan didn’t make a comeback this season.
Thank you so much for reading!
I know it was a long one, and there was so much more we could have looked at: Will this be an ailing David Ferrer‘s final season? Is Tomas Berdych‘s determined coaching plan destined for Slam silverware?
But I know what it’s like looking at such a long post. This was more than enough.
Please feel free to comment and share your views on all of this, or shout out some more questions you think ATP players have to answer this year!
Tournaments for the men this week consist of Doha, Chennai and Brisbane. There’s also Hopman Cup – an exhibition event in which eight countries are represented by a male and female, and where men’s singles, women’s singles and mixed doubles make up the action.
Thanks again for reading, I’ll try to get the WTA version up soon! There’s a busy week ahead and ideally the preview comes before whatever it’s previewing…
– Follow The Tennis Obsessed on twitter @tennisobsessed_.